After 12,500km on foot I'm finally in Rome! It was a spectacular walk from Siena to Rome along a vast network of quiet roads & bush tracks. There were times where I had to battle aginst heavy traffic on highways with no shoulder but for the most part it was a treat. The highway walking is a tad scarey here in Italy. It is one of the most dangerous countries I've walked in as far as traffic flow is concerned & it's actually pretty scarey in sections. I've regularly seen cars pottering down the road at about 40km/hr & others, on the same road, pushing well past about 150km/hr. Combined with the numerous blind corners here it is a recipe for disaster. I've also watched cars pull out in front of fast moving traffic causing a succession of screaming tyres & horns (3 in 1min at one intersection). What's really sad though is the huge number of death memorials along the side of the roads. I say it's dangerous with certain amount of somberness. Too many deaths. A scarey yet somewhat funny moment last week was when a middle-aged man drove up along the mountain pass I was negotiating & pulled over just ahead of me. As I walked past him he unashamably stared at me but the poor guy was so badly cross-eyed that he had to turn his head a good 90deg & swap to the alternate eye to literally 'keep an eye on me'. He then started his car up & drove off up along the twisty mountain pass. Now that is talent! It didn't fill me with a great sense of security though. In any case, as I said, most of this week has been along quiet stretches & so I've had a privileged week filled with rolling green hills, relaxed farmers, gentle farm dogs & horses eager for some attention &... no hotels. From Siena to Rome I was walking along an old pilgrim's route from France to Rome & so each of the little villages I stayed in had a house set aside for any pilgrim passing through. It was perfect. Other than still pushing the line that I'm here as a missionary, not a pilgrim, but the house would be great, thanks. Many rest houses didn't have hot water, two didn't have a bed (I slept on tiles one night) & I went for 3days without a shower. Don't worry, I did the old 'splash basin wash' with the freezing water. That had me jumping! The first few pilgrim homes I'd stayed in had crockery so as I entered the third village I bought myself some gnocci at the local supermarket to have for dinner. The cupboards were bare! I thought, "There's a reason for everything. Maybe God wants me to meet the locals." So, out I went, looking for a pot. The first guy I met was a geologist & he wasn't carrying a pot, however, he thought it was funny that I was wandering the streets looking for a pot with my gnocci in hand & so he walked with me to a nearby house & did the asking for me to the young man hanging out of the 2nd storey window. The young man was very accomodating & after extending the invitation to pray for unity I accepted the pot & boiled up my gnocci. I haven't shared a meal with anyone in over 3weeks now though so I'm beginning to miss that a bit. I did share half a muesli bar with a friendly horse, but the conversation was kind of one way. One of my favorite places so far on the walk through Europe is a village called Radicofani. It was perched up on top of a mountain with an 80km view out to the south. The people were very warm & welcoming & smiles weren't hard to come by. It was the sort of place where I would be quite happy to simply sit down & not really do much else. Some of the locals were doing just that & I understood why. I inflicted a new injury on myself on the walk up into Radicofani. Where my archilles tendon meets the foot, I have a few crease lines in the skin, which have been amplified by the thickening of skin due to, well, perhaps a lot of walking? Somehow, and I have no idea what caused this, one of those skin creases split all the way through such that I could see all the way through to whatever is under the skin at that part of the body. i don't think I was looking at the tendon itself but it certainly wasn't skin. It was like a little mouth that I could open & close by moving my foot up & down. It was a painful injury that forced me to limp badly for a couple of days but a mixture of creams, band-aids & cushioning has at least helped to heal it shut once more. And shut, I hope, it will stay. The walk into Rome was filled with some wild safari moments that I didn't expect. I accidently headed down the wrong backroad for 3km through some thick bush & rolling hills & within 30mins I saw 2wolves, twice, a herd of wild boar & a young couple romancing in their Volkswagon Beetle. Excuse me, moving on (I didn't ask them for directions though it would have been funny to). Once back on the right road I came within a whisker of standing on a viper, curled up in the grass. I was literally placing my foot on top of it as I caught sight of the circular pile of snake & managed to quickly move my momentum backwards with the aid of the walking poles. The viper stayed long enough for me to film it but then it was off in a flash. I should start a safari tour company; "Rome as you've never seen it before!" I arrived in Rome last night, walked through St Peter's Square & struck up a fun conversation with two Swiss Guards for about half an hour. I had a couple of possible contacts for accomodation here but I sort of missed my oppurtunities so I was left to wander the streets looking for something. Everything I found was either full or €80 a night, which I can't afford. I ended up in a church chatting with 3 very jovial priests & they were happy to do the searching for me. They found a place for me a few kilomtres away where I could stay for free so I headed off with directions across town as the sun was setting. Once I arrived I found they'd sent me to a homeless men's shleter. I thought that was funny but I wasn't laughing when I was rejected at the door. Now that's low. There was no room. I walked off into the Rome night along poorly lit, deserted streets thinking, "I just got rejected at a homeless shelter." I eventually wandered past a hotel that still had rooms available & for €40 a night it was mine. It took a while, but all worked out well in the end. I've been invited to drop in to the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Christian Unity first thing tomorrow morning & then after a quick look around & continued prayer I'll then be turning northwest for the final leg of the journey - to Spain. Please keep praying for the unity of Christians in truth & in love & if you have the time, I'll see you next week. God bless, Sam.
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1Thes 5:16-18